Most of us detest change. Why? Over time, we settle into our comfort zone, by the choices we make or the way we handle issues that affect us.
Obviously government, through legislation, eventually rolls down — and often upon — the average citizen, whether it be in America’s Finest City or somewhere else. At this moment, Congress is taking some long, slow, “outside the box” views about retirement — specifically, the most popular plan in America, the 401(k).
Currently, about a third of the nation’s adult population have put money in their individual 401(k) contributions. The limit this year is $18,000. Those over 50, can use a “catch-up” of an additional $6,000, for an annual total of $24,000. All of this now could be up in the air. Change is in the wind, and the people we’ve voted for (or not) have their axes out, talking about slashing those limits as well as taxing contributions that employers make to their employees’ 401(k), known as the “company match.” Another curveball coming our way.
For those of us right here working away in San Diego, at first blush, we ask ourselves “How can this be?” Then next, “What monumental impact is this now going to have on my future retirement?” Great questions. The answers are both logical and absolutely needed — build yourself a financial plan. A blueprint. Establish specific needs into your retirement now. It’s time to do something you probably haven’t done with sincerity and repetition regarding your finances in a long time (procrastination?). This 401(k) issue is our alarm clock going off. It’s time to wake up and act.
Of course having your 401(k) dramatically reduced — or even realizing your employer might scrap it altogether — is and should be a major concern. But even bigger than that is the solemn fact that too often the last thing we do with our paycheck is earmark some of it for our future. Americans are not savers. We spend. We abuse our credit cards. Student loans have surpassed credit cards and car loans combined. We don’t pay down or pay off mortgages anymore, we refinance, over and over again to repackage our debt. We don’t reduce it, we grow it.
Whoever said that the 401(k) was the “only way” to put money away for our later years? I remember when I stopped for gas and the attendant came out, checked my oil, took the air pressure on my tires, cleaned my windshield and filled up my tank. Guess what, it’s now “self-serve,” baby! Why wouldn’t my retirement, and yours, as well, go through a transformation? Roll with it. It’s not the end of the world. Sadly, many Americans work two to three jobs just to get by. They don’t even have a retirement, or plan beyond paying this month’s rent and groceries. Believe me, we’ll survive.
Sadly, America is broke. Our infrastructure is in decay. Cities and states are drowning in their pension debt. It’s easy to blame everyone else. So now it’s time to complain about Congress screwing us over about our 401(k)’s … blah, blah, blah. I’ll tell you what time it is, it’s time for all of us to begin planning for our future. Paying ourselves first, spending less, investing more. If you don’t have the means to pay for it, don’t! Create a budget. Have your kids go out and get a job if they need money (you save yours!)
Bank CDs (certificates of deposit), life insurance, stocks, real estate, bonds, mutual funds, REITs (real estate investment trusts), annuities, trust deeds, saving accounts, money markets — when has the government told us we cannot sock away our money into the myriad of choices this country offers? Sure, it becomes inconvenient to not have that 401(k) contribution taken out of your check. I get it. So make the adjustments. Just like the next time you fill up. Self-serve style. Remember, when you do it yourself, you have no limits to what you can contribute.
Our reality is this: Blaming others who impact our lifestyles, our comfort zone, will not change the absolute truth about our retirement — we’ll either have the money, or the reasons we don’t. Build a plan, adjust along the way, but do it!
If there is any “take away” in this 401(k) scenario it’s this: Don’t ever expect our government to be your solution to a solid, you-can-count-on retirement. The “security” has left the “social.”
Chilton is founder and CEO of The Society for Financial Awareness, which has its national headquarters in San Diego.